By Alex Membrillo
Back in 2020, some research suggested a coming increase in teledentistry adoption. Today, we know that the utility of teledentistry extended beyond delivering care during COVID-19-related lockdowns. In fact, the Oral Health Workforce Research Center (OHWRC) considers teledentistry an “emerging practice” that’s particularly well suited for expanding access to care in a variety of ways.
That said, there’s an opportunity now for dental practices large and small to implement sensible, cost-effective, and user-friendly teledentistry offerings. To that end, here are four best practices to keep in mind.
Start With the Core Need that Teledentistry Meets: Patient Access
That NASA was among the first organizations to explore telehealth says it all. Why? Because they were trying to extend access to healthcare for people in outer space. Telehealth and, by extension, teledentistry have patient access in their very DNA.
For dental practices looking to grow, increase revenue, and ensure patient safety, expanding patient access ought to be a priority. Data from the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration indicates that 62 million people live in so-called healthcare professional shortage areas (HPSAs) for dentistry.
Then there are the people for whom teledentistry is more convenient, comfortable, and practical. As the State of Patient Access and Engagement survey from DocASAP indicates, 40% of people would switch providers based on availability for both telehealth and in-person visits. Indeed, there’s a competitive advantage to expanding access, too.
Know the Types of Teledentistry Visits
The ADA Guide to Understanding and Documenting Teledentistry Events cites two code entries for teledentistry:
- D9995: “synchronous” visits in which services or procedures are delivered in real-time
- D9996: “asynchronous” visits in which recorded health information is “stored and forwarded” to providers
The ADA also lists remote patient monitoring and mobile health visits as modalities of teledentistry. It helps to look at these modalities in practice. Healier cites four common scenarios:
- Limited Evaluation and Triage
- Hygiene Assessment
- Satellite Office Coverage
- Follow-up and Patient Consultation
You’ll find that teledentistry has many applications beyond these four, including dentist-to-dentist and dentist-to-hygienist communications.
Choose Teledentistry Software with the Right Functionality
Of course, the look and feel of your own teledentistry offering, as well as the modalities your practice supports, will depend on the needs of your patient base. What makes the most sense for your patients? For example, are you conducting hundreds of asynchronous diagnostic screenings at schools in your community? Or maybe you need to conduct synchronous visits for low-income seniors who cannot leave their care facilities? Either way, you’ll need a clear understanding of required modalities before looking for supporting technologies.
Functionalities for your teledentistry platform to include:
- Online appointment requests and booking
- Virtual patient waiting rooms
- Automated text and email reminders for appointment
- Digital patient forms and file transfer
The list goes on. The question is, what’s the right mix for you, your staff, and patients? As you consider your teledentistry platform, keep in mind that IT change management for the deployment and support of teledentistry can be considerable. Deployment will entail IT infrastructure, personnel requirements, training and onboarding, and ongoing reporting and analytics (among other things).
Always Be Compliant
You’ll want to make sure your teledentistry offering complies with federal and state patient privacy laws, namely HIPAA. The good news is that most modern teledentistry platforms have compliance mechanisms built in out of the box.
Finally, Know the Limits of Teledentistry
For obvious reasons, there’s certain things teledentistry simply cannot do. Actual hands-on treatment is one of them. Still, teledentistry can serve as an important part of the patient journey, helping practices consult, diagnose, and transfer information in advance of actual treatment. For many patient populations, this might be the difference between receiving critical dental care or not.
About the Author:
Alex Membrillo is the CEO of Cardinal Digital Marketing, an award-winning digital marketing agency based in Atlanta, GA. Specializing in medical and dental marketing, Mr. Membrillo offers healthcare professionals a step-by-step approach to increase their patient base and keep their practice off Life Support.